I wonder how many people reading this have ever sat down and thought, “Hmm, I could be the next Banksy.” The truth is, there is major appeal in street art — the secrecy, the rush, the message, the money. Many individuals, both artists and non-artists (think Mr. Brainwash), have been attracted to the art of graffiti, whether for creative, adrenaline-based or financial reasons. But as up-and-coming LA-based street artist WasNMe will tell you, it’s not as easy as it seems!
We sat down with the British-born ex-photographer who is now making his mark (literally!) on the streets of Los Angeles to talk about his journey and get an inside look into what it’s really like trying to make it in street art.
Why Street Art?
I’ve admired graffiti and urban art since I was a school kid. I went out tagging like most naughty kids in the UK, but realized I was basically making a mess. And when I actually attempted a real piece, I realised “Shit, this is actually a lot harder than it looks. I guess I’ll resign to watching the pros from the periphery.” Then, twenty or so years later, I’m living in LA working as a professional photographer and someone I know started to make it big in the street art world; he’s making great money and hanging from billboards in the moonlight. This was basically my catalyst to get off my ass, stop talking about it and say, “If you don’t try, you don’t get…” The potential idea of making money while doing something I love spurred me on.
The other reason was the rush! That first wheat-pasting session at 3AM got me hooked! I came back around 4:30 and lay in bed wide-eyed until I had to get up for work at 7:30. The adrenaline and urge to see my work in the daylight had me; at that point it was in my veins. I guess being naughty and getting away with it never left my side.
Talk me through a typical night of going out and putting up art. Have you ever had a close call?
A typical night starts with stealing the missus’s flour and sugar and cooking up some fresh paste (starts to smell like puke and vinegar after two days). I put on a cap, dark clothing I can get messy and give my sleeping kids a kiss on the forehead. I unscrew my license plate and set up my tools in the footwell for easy access. This is key, you don’t want to be fumbling at the crucial moment. In the beginning, it’s all trial and error in situations that don’t allow much room for mistakes. Preparation is key, and a spotter or two if available. I’m still pretty new to all this and there isn’t a handbook, so use your intuition and don’t be stupid until the coast is clear.
I’ve had a few close calls but I’m very careful. Friday and Saturday nights in LA are a no no. However, I’ve broken this rule and it’s nearly cost me. You can get overconfident, and that one moment you go back without checking – the cops roll past. Thankfully, in my case they were looking in the opposite direction, but a turn of their heads and I would have been busted. Don’t get sloppy and don’t break your own rules.
How would you describe your artistic style?
Ha! That’s one thing I’m still working on. I studied art and photography at college but I’m still trying to find my signature. I’m a fan off all aspects of art and I think that’s my big problem; I’m trying to achieve too much when the answer could be staring me right in the face. Pop art is something I’ll continue to experiment with as I have an affinity with pop-culture.
It’s very difficult to do something different, especially in street art. A few artists tend to revolutionise a style and then get copied to death. I’m trying not to do that but I won’t lie, it’s very hard to stay on an individual path.
It’s clear from your work that you are quite versatile as an artist – do you think it’s important as a street artist in particular to have a signature style or brand? If so, in what direction are you heading with that?
Yes definitely, it’s crucial in today’s art world. If you want to make a living that is. I mean, if Picasso or Basquiat were born in the 80’s would they see the same success? Maybe, but they’d probably have a logo and an Instagram account too. (I guess Basquiat had the crown…)
Branding is key, look at Alec Monopoly – love or loath him, he and his people have created a brand and right now you can’t stop them; he’s selling, shoes, apparel, paintings, prints and sculptures for silly money. Not even Mike Mozart could throw a spanner in the works, and he tried! Alec’s making a fortune and enjoying life – the haters are always gonna hate, but respect when due.
I need to find my Retna, or my Mar. These guys have a very distinct style, which they do over and over and do it very well. You can spot them a mile off and their work has a certain class to it. Banksy too as his stuff is so clever and thought-provoking; you can’t not love Banksy – even if it sounds cliché.
Is there a particular message you want to spread through your art or something you feel you want viewers to take away from it?
A message is important but I’ll leave that to Banksy. Too many artists try to be so politically profound or ironic and it just makes me cringe. Some things need to be left alone when they’ve already been done so well. I think the most important thing is to make people smile or laugh. I think I know which path I’m taking in the near future and it’s something I think a lot of people will relate too – I hope it’ll be music to your ears… And eyes.
Do you find that there is a good support community when it comes to street artists in LA? Are there any artists you particularly like or look up to?
There’s a ton of talent in LA! I admire Thrashbird; he’s branded very well, keeps it discrete and gets up in tricky spots. Obviously Retna, Mar, Gregory Siff, Fairey, David Flores, El Mac, Wrdsmith, Teach, Morley and PunkmeTender – the list goes on…
It does seem a very tight-knit community at the top but I think that’s the same in most industries. I’ve reached out to a few I aspire to and had a welcoming response, but it’s pretty lonely out there at the beginning. I went in to Lab Art when I first started and spoke with the owner, Iskander, and he was extremely friendly and welcoming, the same with Guy Hepner. They won’t remember me yet but they will if I stay on the right path.
– India Irving
For all the latest on WasNMe, follow him on Instagram HERE (@wasnmeart).